By Lorenzo Etherington (David Fickling Books)
These days, young kids are far more likely to find their formative strip narrative experiences online or between the card-covers of specially tailored graphic novels rather than the comics and periodicals of my long-dead youth.
Once upon a time, however, the comics industry was a commercial colossus which thrived by producing copious amounts of gaudy, flimsy pamphlets in a multitude of subjects and sub-genre, all subdivided into a range of successful, self-propagating, seamlessly self-perpetuating age-specific publications.
Such eye-catching items generated innumerable tales and delights intended to entertain, inform and educate such well-defined target demographics as Toddler/Pre-school, Younger and Older Juvenile, General, Girls, Boys and even Young Teens, but today Britain can only manage to maintain a few paltry out-industry licensed tie-ins and spin-offs for a dwindling younger readership.
Where once cheap and prolific, strip magazines in the 21st century are extremely cost-intensive and manufactured for a highly specific – and dying – niche market, whilst the beguiling and bombastic genres that originally fed and nurtured comics are more immediately disseminated via TV, movies and assorted interactive media.
There are one or two venerable, long-lived holdouts such as the Beano and 2000AD but overall the trend has been downwards for decades.
That maxim was happily turned on its head in January 2012 when Oxford-based family publisher David Fickling Books launched The Phoenix: a traditional-seeming anthology comic weekly aimed at girls and boys between 6 and 12 which revelled in reviving the good old days of picture-story entertainment Intent whilst embracing the full force of modernity in style and Content.
Each issue offers humour, adventure, quizzes, puzzles and educational material in a joyous parade of cartoon fun and fantasy and, in the years since its premiere, the comic has gone from strength to strength, winning praise from the Great and the Good, child literacy experts and the only people who really count – the astoundingly engaged kids and parents who read itâ€¦
The Phoenix was recently voted No.2in Time Magazine‘sglobal list of Top Comics and Graphic Novels and is the only strip publication started in the UK in the last forty years to have reached issue #100 (#129 and counting). The magazine celebrated its first anniversary by developing a digital edition available globally as an iPad application and is continually expanding its horizons.
It is, most importantly, big and bold and tremendous fun.
Moreover, whilst comics companies all seem to have given up the ghost, in this country at least, old-school prose publishers and the newborn graphic novel industry have evolved to fill their vacated niche.
With a less volatile business model and far more sustainable long-term goals, book sellers have prospered from magazine makers’ surrender, and there have never been so many and varied cartoon and comics chronicles, compilations and tomes for readers to enjoy.
Happily at long last many of the serials and series in The Phoenix have finally joined that growing market, having been superbly repackaged as graphic albums with the first two debuting in July 2014.
Both have already been selected for The Reading Agency’s prestigious Summer Reading Challenge (which begins on 12th July): the first comic-books ever to have featured on a Summer Reading Challenge list.
The one we’re looking at today is The Phoenix Presentsâ€¦ Von Doogan and the Curse of the Golden Monkey: a dazzling display of cartoon virtuosity and brain-bursting comic challenges composed by Lorenzo Etherington, originally seen as captivating, addictively challenging weekly instalments of The Dangerous Adventures of Von Doogan.
The serialcombines captivating cartoon narrative with observational tests, logic puzzles and other kids’ favourite brain-teasers, craftily taking readers and participants on a magnificently constructed progressive voyage of adventure and discovery in 37 clue, game, maze and mystery-packed episodes.
Von Doogan and his partner in peril Jake Wingnut are brilliant and intrepid young explorers with a keen sense of justice and an insatiable thirst for action who here tackle all manner of conundra and – with your help – track down a band of pirate cutthroats, battle a magical monster and rescue a fantastic treasure from obscurity by solving such imposing posers as ‘The Nine Locks’, ‘The Telltale Cell’, ‘A Knotty Problem’ and ‘Finding Captain Nemo’ â€¦
Naturally we aren’t all as smart as Von Doogan or a six-year old so this spectacular colourful cornucopia comes with a page explaining ‘How the Book Works’, an ‘Equipment Checklist’ and a fulsome secret section giving extra help with ‘The Clues’ and thankfully ‘The Solutions’.
There’s even a free printable download page providing your own handy dandy copy of ‘Doogan’s Danger Kit’ to stop you cutting up the one in this mesmerising manuscript of mystery.
Story! Games! Action! â€¦and all there in the irresistible shape of entertaining pictures. How much cooler can a book get?
Text and illustrations Â© Lorenzo Etherington 2014. All rights reserved.
The Reading Agency is a charity whose mission is to give everyone an equal chance in life by helping people become confident and enthusiastic readers. The Summer Reading Challenge encourages children aged 4 to 11 to read six books during the long summer holiday.
Children can read whatever they like just as long as they are borrowed from the library. Every time children finish a book they get stickers and rewards and there’s a certificate for everyone who finishes. The Summer Reading Challenge is open to all school children and is designed for all reading abilities.
To find out more about The Phoenix or subscribe, visit: www.thephoenixcomic.co.uk